5 things to watch for when Ohio State hosts Rutgers in a family fight
The first real test? Passed. Ohio State won its second game of this shortened season in convincing fashion.
And while the schedule down the road will feature challenges from some surprisingly good teams (Hello, Indiana), Ohio State must flex on a familiar foe this week — Rutgers, who is coached by a former Buckeye, Greg Schiano. Schiano, who was the defensive coordinator in Columbus for three years from 2016-18, is a man with a complicated past. In his first stint as the head coach at Rutgers from 2001-2011, he had the Scarlet Knights rolling, as they racked up bowl wins (5) and sent successful players into the NFL (15).
Then came the fallout. Schiano tried his hand at being a head coach in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It didn’t work. In his first season, the team went 7-9. The next — 4-12. He was fired.
After a three-year absence from coaching, Schiano was hired by Urban Meyer to be the defensive coordinator in Columbus. By 2018, he was offered the Tennessee head coaching position, and he accepted it, only to have the job pulled from him after social media pressure and protests from fans and alumni. Why? Because from 1990-95, Schiano coached at Penn State. In court testimony revealed in 2017, Mike McQuery — also an assistant coach with the Nittany Lions at the time — testified that another Penn State coach told him Schiano had witnessed defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky abusing a young boy.
Schiano denied the allegations, and it’s worth noting that he was never mentioned in any report on the Penn State scandal, nor was he ever asked to be interviewed by investigators. Tennessee athletic officials showed support, but the damage was done. He would not become the head man in Knoxville. And the hits kept coming.
Urban Meyer retired from Ohio State. Ryan Day became the new head coach. And Schiano’s contract was not renewed. This came after a season in which the Buckeyes defense gave up more yards and more points than any defense in the history of Ohio State football.
In was then reported that Schiano had accepted the defensive coordinator position with the New England Patriots, but in March 2019, he said he would have to leave the job because he did not want to uproot his family from Columbus.
But I guess it turns out you can go home again. In 2019, Schiano returned to the job that made him a coaching star. Rutgers has never been the same since he left, and in an attempt to rekindle the magic, the school brought him back.
And all of that leads us to this weekend. Schiano returns to Ohio Stadium, back to the place where he coached, and against the man who essentially showed him the door. So what happens? The guess here is Rutgers puts up a good fight early, then gets hammered late.
Here are 5 things to watch when Ohio State takes on Rutgers — and things get personal:
1. It’ll be a family fight — a fitting preview to the upcoming holidays.
Will Day try to run up the score on his former colleague? Does Schiano have something special planned to make it difficult for his old employer? Reports are the two don’t quite get along, although each has said the right things leading up to the game.
“We’re close. He’s an excellent football coach,” Schiano said of Day. “He and his family are great people. And when we go to compete, we compete. Otherwise, we’re friends.”
“They’re a very different team than last year … they have several transfers and have upgraded talent,” Day said on the Buckeye Roundtable Show this week. “Greg (Schiano) is really building something. This won’t be the same team we’ve played the last couple years. We have to prepare and take care of the basics. Greg is a very, very good coach.”
It should also be said that 5 Ohio State players hail from the fertile recruiting ground that is New Jersey (including defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste), while two former Buckeyes transferred to Rutgers (starting safety Brendan White and backup defensive end Malik Barrow).
Get ready for a true family fight.
2. Keep track of these numbers.
- Ohio State is a 37-point favorite, and while that sounds like a large number, we should remember they were an absurd 53.5-point favorite last year, when they failed to cover (they won 56-21). Do they cover Saturday night? It’s definitely easier than last year.
- Justin Fields’ numbers are ridiculous. He’s completing 87.3 percent of his passes (yes, that’s correct) for 594 yards, 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. There are already whispers among fans and media that he may be the best quarterback to ever play in Columbus. Is he? Maybe.
- The Buckeyes have outscored Rutgers 327-48 since 2014. That’s an average of 54.5-8. I’m convinced the offense can score 55. Can the defense hold Rutgers to 8?
3. Rutgers history is not good. Does it keep repeating?
Rutgers has lost its last 29 games against top 25 opponents — a streak that goes all the way back to 2009, which is the longest current drought for a Power 5 program. And that was when Schiano was the head coach the first time around. My question: Can Rutgers at least keep this score respectable? Last season, the Scarlet Knights lost every B1G game, by an average of 33 points. That is some serious, historical futility.
My guess is Rutgers is not breaking the cycle this week in Columbus. But if — and this is a big IF — they can keep it close against the Buckeyes, they will win a huge moral victory.
4. But here’s the thing — Rutgers is already improving.
Rutgers has a great linebacker in Olakunle Fatukasi and a star wideout in Bo Melton. They beat Michigan State, which now looks like a much better win, and they didn’t get annihilated by Indiana, which is progress. In reality, fans have a lot to be excited about in Piscataway — more than they’ve had in years.
But can Schiano continue to move this rebuild forward? Don’t forget that Ohio State needs style points. Holding steady at No. 3 in the polls, Ohio State and its fans will watch as top-ranked Clemson will face Notre Dame this weekend without its star quarterback. The Buckeyes have a chance to move up, and they are going to do whatever they can to impress voters. What will it take? Will covering the spread be impressive enough?
5. Can the Ohio State secondary use this game to get better?
Perhaps the only criticism (aside from missing kicks with an injured kicker) for the Buckeyes against Penn State was how the secondary played in the second half.
Can they use this game to get better? Melton is a good receiver, but this should be a situation where a lot of Ohio State defensive backs get good in-game experience. Like Marcus Hooker last week (6 tackles, 1 interception against Penn State), we could see other athletes in the secondary step up and make plays.
It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the opportunity.
So — are you ready for a good, old-fashioned family fight? I am.